Durban - A Tongaat electrician has been hailed a hero and dubbed Spider-Man after he scaled the slippery front of a three-storey building and hung from a satellite dish to rescue a 7-year-old boy.
The boy and his grandfather had been trapped in their flat, in Denbecca Centre in Arbee Drive, after a fire broke out at 10am on Thursday.
Their screams for help rallied local residents who put up a ladder - but it was too short and they were hesitant to climb it.
Muziwandile Melusi Mkhwanazi, 24, who was loading tools into a van nearby, outside the electrical shop where he works, sprang into action when he heard that two people were trapped inside.
Moon Reddy, 69, was in his room when the fire started, while his grandson, Luade, 7, was showering.
Within minutes the flat was engulfed in smoke. He tried to unlock the door but was overcome by the smoke and moved away.
Luade stepped out of the bathroom and panicked at the sight of smoke. They both went to the lounge window to scream for help.
Les Govender, of Dicks Hardware Store, opposite the building, said he heard the boy screaming and saw smoke billowing from the window. His employees, Sipho Ndlovu and Lucky Khenke, had already run into the store to fetch an 8m extension ladder. They passed it to residents standing on the ledge at the front of the building. Meanwhile, other residents were trying to prise open the gate and door to the flat.
Mkhwanazi said when he saw people on the road running frantically he followed them.
“Time was going. A life was going to be lost. I went back downstairs and noticed that a ladder was placed outside. Without asking I climbed up the ladder. I had no plan and had to improvise,” he said.
“When I got to the window I saw the child. He had no clothes on and looked frightened.”
Mkhwanazi said the ladder was 2m short of the window where the terrified boy was waiting.
With seemingly little thought for his own safety Mkhwanazi reached up to a satellite dish bracket while standing on top of a window frame on the second floor.
Delicately balanced on the frame and with one hand gripping the bracket, Mkhwanazi pulled himself up, and stood on the bracket. With the support of the bracket he put the upper half of his body through the window, and grabbed the boy.
“He was too short to climb over the window ledge. He was crying inconsolably,” he said.
Mkhwanazi said he passed him to another rescuer, Sphamandla Dlamini, 26, who was below him on the ladder. “It was slippery and it happened very fast,” he said.
Dlamini said he, like many others, had tried to break down the gate and door to get into the flat. He had a wet cloth over his face to avoid being suffocated.
“The fire began to spread and we could feel the heat. I saw Mkhwanazi climb the ladder and I told him I would hold it steady for him,” he said. “He grabbed on to whatever he could. The boy was passed down by many hands to the road level.”
Meanwhile, residents eventually broke down the door and entered the flat.
Segree Ramkaran, who lives in a flat below, said her husband, Sunil, found Reddy behind the door. When the door was flung open it had struck him on the forehead, knocking him down.
Residents carried him out of the flat to safety.
Netcare 911 spokeswoman, Santi Steinmann, said the boy and his grandfather were taken to hospital.
Kerissa Reddy, Luade’s cousin, said the family was grateful to Mkhwanazi and those who helped.
“(Moon) had five stitches to the head and is being treated for smoke inhalation. He had breathing problems. Luade was nebulised and kept for a few hours before being discharged from hospital.”
Coco, their Maltese-Jack Russell dog, escaped from the home when the door was opened.
Kerissa said her family would have to start from scratch because of the damage from the fire.
Resident Segree Ramkaran, unaware that the flat above her was on fire said she had heard people screaming “jump” and “don’t jump”, and thought someone was on a ledge contemplating suicide.
Her husband, Sunil, rushed upstairs, but was overcome by smoke. By then the other occupants of the building had run out.
After the rescue she wrapped Luade in a blanket. “Everyone rallied together to assist. Mkhwanazi was like Spider-Man. I could not stop crying, I became emotional. It was also raining heavily and he was not worried about the risk of slipping. I take my hat off to him. He is a local hero.”
Bruce de Gier, divisional commander of the North-eThekwini Fire Department, confirmed that two people were rescued from the flat. Firefighters had contained the fire to the upper floor but the cause of the blaze was still unknown.
One of the Reddys’ two bedrooms was gutted while the lounge and kitchen were blackened by smoke.
The fire had started in one of the bedrooms.
Shadrack Naidoo, the building supervisor, later cleared the flat of debris, and said it would have to be restored. The hole in the roof has been covered with a canvas to keep out the rain.
Meanwhile, Mkhwanazi’s employer for the past eight months, Marlon Moodley, described him as a jovial and helpful person.
He said Mkhwanazi had once gone to the aid of a woman who was held up at knifepoint. He caught the robber and handed him to police.